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Finnish journalists convicted of revealing state secrets

January 27, 2023

Two journalists working for a large Finnish newspaper have been found guilty of revealing secret information on military intelligence. Reporters Without Borders has called the verdict a "dangerous precedent."

 An advert by Finnish newspaper Helsingin Sanomat stating 'Mr. President, welcome to the land of free press' is seen on the wall of Helsinki Music Centre in Helsinki on July 14, 2018.
An advert by the Helsingin Sandmat daily ahead of a meeting between ex-US President Trump and Russian President Putin in 2018Image: Aleksi Tuomola/Lehtikuva/dpa/picture alliance

A Finnish court on Friday convicted two journalists working for a large Finnish daily of disclosing national defense secrets to the public, fining one and leaving the other without punishment.

The trial of the two Helsingin Sanomat journalists represents a rare restriction on reporting in the Nordic country, which ranks among the top five countries in the latest press freedom index issued by Reporters Without Borders.  

What were the journalists accused of?

Prosecutors said an article written in 2017 by journalists Tuomo Pietilainen and Laura Halminen for the Helsingin Sanomat included information from classified documents.

The article, titled "Finland's most secret place," included 10-year-old data on the rough location and tasks of an intelligence unit of the defense forces, the Finnish Intelligence Research Center.

At the time, the Finnish Parliament had been mulling whether the unit should be given more powers to monitor private online data. 

In a release, the Helsinki district court said "several types of information regarding military intelligence were made public, which had been regulated to be kept secret for the sake of Finland's external security." 

The court said it was of the opinion that the information disclosed in the article was unconnected to the legislation under debate. It also maintained that the article did not reveal any problems or malpractices that could have justified its publication.

What punishment did the journalists receive?

Pietilainen received a fine and Halminen was found guilty of the charges but given no penalty because of her minor role in the reporting for the article.

The verdict can be appealed by the journalists, who have denied any wrongdoing.

Finnish media reported that prosecutors had sought prison sentences of six months to a year for the journalists and another editor, who was acquitted of all charges by the court.

War, conflict and crises put a strain on free media — at a time when they are needed most

What have been the reactions to the verdict?

Press freedom watchdog Reporters Without Borders expressed dismay that a country with such a good record had clamped down on investigative reporting.

"If a court in Finland, a country ranked on the top of the World Press Freedom Index ..., prosecutes journalists for reporting on national security issues, what message is this for the countries ranked lower in the index?" the watchdog said in a statement, calling it "a dangerous precedent."

For years, Finland was among the top-ranked nations on the index but last year was demoted to fifth place among 180 countries, partly on account of the Helsingin Sanomat trial. 

The editor-in-chief of the paper, Antero Mukka, voiced disappointment at the verdict. 

Mukka said in a statement that "the damage to freedom of speech has already been carried out" despite the mild penalties handed down.

tj,dj (Reuters, AP)